What a grueling day! Either a sign of getting old or a sign of lack of training. Or maybe both! Anyway, the weather was perfect for the second race of the 4-part King of the Hills (KOTH) series. It was about 15 degrees centigrade and partially overcast today. The race was held in Sai Kung and the full course is about 38kms long.
As usual, I was riding my motorbike to the starting point (Pak Tam Chung in Sai Kung) and when I made a familiar sharp turn from Clear Water Bay road to Hiram’s highway, I was reminded of the time I bravely saved a rabbit’s life with complete disregard for my own safety. It was undoubtedly very heroic and selfless of me to do so but since that day, I have been very careful to avoid rabbits of all shapes and sizes. So, when I made that turn today, I was extra slow and on 2nd gear, that too without acceleration. An impatient car driver kept flashing his headlights at me from behind which was very counterproductive for him as I slowed down even further to annoy him. I was thinking how neat it would be to have a big balloon pop up from behind my motorbike with this message for the car driver: “Hey [expletive], my safety takes priority over your speed!”
I reached Pak Tam Chung at 8.30am and walked over to the registration desk. The whole area had a super fit aura to it. It looked like all the lean and mean trail runners of Hong Kong wanted to be the kings and queens of the hills! There was enough combined energy there to move mountains, not just climb them! The full and half marathons started at the same time (9am).
As with every race I participate in, I was stuck in a racer traffic jam from the very beginning. There were all sorts of “vehicles” present; ranging from those ultra-light, super-fast acceleration vehicles (some dude weighing about 50 kilos who can comfortably pull off a high-speed overtaking act in the narrowest part of an already narrow trail) to a heavy-duty truck with plenty of raw horsepower (some 6’5″ tall dude with long legs made of iron. This dude might be slow to accelerate but has the distinct height advantage of being able to hop from one boulder to another distant boulder with the ease that can only be matched by a humungous frog). I was stuck somewhere in the middle and took a more cautious approach at overtaking as I am neither that talented when compared to these other runners, nor am I such a big risk taker. Besides, I had a vehicle of my own (or so I thought). I was going to be more like a mere bicycle. Slower to accelerate and slower to ride BUT it would never run out of fuel! Ok, perhaps not the best example but my point is that I was going to rely on my endurance and overtake much later when the trails widen. Hopefully at a time when most of these other “vehicles” would have run out of fuel.
Murphy’s law certainly held true for me, just as the trails did widen – “If something can go wrong, it will”. The bottom of my left foot (below the ankle) went numb for no apparent reason. I tried slowing down but when you are in a freeway and you see vehicles speeding on all lanes, it’s hard to do so. My right foot also started misbehaving shortly after that, so I resorted to running on the slowest lane (extreme right on a concrete path). I was focusing only on the destination and desperately trying not to be bothered by those “vehicles” that were overtaking me from neighboring lanes and sending a waft of breeze my way each time they zoomed past me.
There was an occasion where the course seemed to be wrongly marked. There were two conflicting markers at a junction, one indicating that we were supposed to go up some hill and the other suggesting that we were supposed to carry on running on a concrete path. I went up the hill along with several other runners until one of them shouted “wrong way”. Those are awesome words to hear if you are at the back because suddenly, and without much additional effort, you are suddenly at the front! As we retreated to the junction, it appeared as though I gained a few spots over fellow runners who also needless went up that hill but in the grand scheme of things, I lost time. But, time was the last thing on my mind. I was more concerned about finishing the whole course at that point.
Just before the end of the half marathon, we had to run on a trail full of stones and boulders that seemed to hug the Sai Kung coastline (I was focused more on not tripping and falling over the boulders, so didn’t quite get much of a chance to admire the beauty of the Sai Kung coast). This is when most of us had the pleasure of being introduced to a very beautiful Queen of the Hills. She is not just beautiful but is very fast. She is also single. Yes, she does sound like the ideal girlfriend but that’s only if you are a male bee. This queen bee and her friends declared war on us as we were trying to cross her territory. I knew something was wrong when the superfast runner in front of me suddenly hit reverse gear. I continued running my engines and OUCH! The queen stung me with a serious vengeance. I stepped on the gas and escaped with only one sting and a bruised ego.
I saw Hannes at the finish of the half-marathon who yelled “you took a shortcut” or something like that. I was still recovering from that passionate kiss from the queen bee so couldn’t really ask him when or where. I continued on the full marathon course and hit a trail that involved some serious and never-ending bushwhacking which was getting on my nerves. All my supposedly healed scars from saving that rabbit in Sai Kung were being tested for endurance by all the thorny branches of trees and shrubs. My leg also got worse. The heels of both legs were shooting off pain signals to the brain each time they hit the ground. Probably because my shoes were getting old and the insoles and treads were wearing out (Note to self: BUY NEW SHOES!)
I saw my Trailwalker teammate Steven at some point which was a surprise. I was expecting him to be a good 20 minutes ahead. He explained to me that he had lost over 20 minutes by actually going up that hill we weren’t supposed to climb. We ended up exchanging places frequently during most of the remainder of the course until Steven suggested that we finish as a team. I was initially a bit reluctant as I was very slow by then and didn’t want to slow him down even further. That didn’t seem to bother my teammate so we started to run/walk together the last few kms. We had two huge hills to climb towards the end and then had to descend straight into Pak Tam Chung road on a steep and slippery trail. By that time, I felt like a 60-year-old man in pain and was very slow in my descent. Then, Steven and I turned back and looked up the hill we had just come down and found a real 60-year-old man running down that steep slope in trailblazing fashion. This veteran was none other than Claus! I only wish I can be as fast as him when I turn 60! He overtook us and later on admonished me at the finish “tell your mom that you got beaten by a 60-year-old. If you keep getting beaten by a 60-year-old, you will lose confidence!”
Steven and I finished as a team at 1pm! Time: 5 hours 33 seconds and 18th in my category, 35th overall. KOTH is getting more and more competitive with each passing year!
They say that “there is opportunity in crisis” and, at the finish line, I was told by Alice about a gentleman who practices that to perfection. He had a rather innovative and entrepreneurial way of dealing with that bee sting which most of us experienced. He wanted the ladies at the finish line to “pee” on him because, apparently, the way to heal a sting by a bee is through lady pee. Alice corrected him and explained that this peeing method only applies to stings by jellyfish. But, something tells me he doesn’t quite care.
Great day out. Two lessons learnt (a) buy new shoes! (b) wear pants for KOTH Sai Kung! [Now, this old man has to recover quickly.]